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Teen sues over 'lesbian Barbie' shirt ban

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NEW YORK (Reuters) -- A New York teenager alleged on Thursday that teachers violated her civil rights when they suspended her from school for wearing a "Barbie is a Lesbian" T-shirt.

Lawyers who filed a lawsuit on her behalf in Manhattan federal court said 14-year-old Natalie Young is openly lesbian and that a teacher laughed at her, calling the garment and its reference to the popular Barbie doll "inappropriate."

Young alleged that the principal held her for three hours in an office at the school in the borough of Queens on April 10, 2002 and refused to allow her to return to class while she wore the T-shirt.

A spokesman for the city education department, a defendant in the lawsuit, declined immediate comment.

Young was suspended for the day and the principal threatened to send her home again if she wore the T-shirt to school in future, the lawsuit alleged.

"Schools cannot legally engage in this type of selective, content-based suppression of speech," lawyer Dan Perez said. "If she had worn a 'Barbie Supports the Troops in the War in Iraq' T-shirt, she would have been called a patriot."

Perez said that on another school day before the T-shirt incident, teachers made Young remove rainbow colored beads from her hair, although she was not suspended then.

The lawsuit, which names the education department, school principal and several teachers as defendants, seeks a declaration from the court that Young's constitutional right to free speech was violated. It asks the department to issue guidelines on students' dress and on dealing with students' expression of their sexual orientation.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the name of the student's mother, Kathleen Hodges, because Young is a minor, also seeks unspecified monetary damages.

"That is not the most important issue here but if a jury decides to contribute to Natalie's college fund, all the better," Perez said.

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